Why is it so hard for us to say no? What are we rejecting when we agree to others against our will? How often do we end up regretting doing things we didn't want to, which always seem to go wrong? How many times do we say... "I knew it!", yet time and again, we ignore that wise voice whispering in our ear... "better not", and end up saying yes, leading to intense internal conflict?
Learning to say no and set boundaries is essential for feeling comfortable and in harmony with who we choose to be and how we want to live. However, external judgment, the fear of losing love, and personal insecurity often shake us just when we plan to say no, and at the last moment, we end up agreeing to what we truly don't want.
Why is it so difficult for us to say no?
Primarily, this difficulty is due to an ancestral fear: being excluded from the herd. Belonging to a social group has kept us alive until now. We wouldn't have survived as a species without the support and protection of a herd to shelter and assist us. This fidelity and loyalty are embedded in the collective unconscious of all humanity. At one point in our history, displeasing the community meant exposing ourselves to lurking predators.
Times have changed, and there are no longer lurking predators, but our brain still responds as in ancient times. We feel panic at the thought of rejection! To the extent of becoming predators of ourselves, cutting off parts of our being for fear of displeasing or offending others.
Irrational Beliefs That Prevent Us from Saying No
In today's society, to this core fear, we add certain irrational beliefs that sustain the problem of being disloyal to ourselves:
- Overvaluing others' opinions
Anyone who says they don't care about others' opinions is lying. We all care because we are social beings in constant social interaction; we are not islands adrift in the sea. The problem is not that we care about what others think, but that we extend "others" indefinitely to include the neighbor, the person across the street, the near and far, friends, strangers, and passersby. When we embark on the impossible mission of pleasing and satisfying everyone, we lose sight of who we are, our desires, motivations, and aspirations, and even forget who we were by blending in with the rest. Trying to always be in the right, constantly amiable, unconditional, cordial, and friendly with everyone is a passport to unhappiness because it involves setting aside our own needs to accommodate what we "suppose" others want, maintaining the unconscious equation that not meeting these demands means being denied affection and appreciation. This is not always true. And even if it is... Is it really worth being dishonest with ourselves to earn the appreciation of those who like us only when we dance to their tune? Sooner or later, this translates into personal dissatisfaction and disillusionment with others because compliance is never enough.
Is it really worth being dishonest with ourselves to earn the appreciation of those who like us only when we dance to their tune?
- Feeling Selfish, Bad, or Guilty for Not Doing What Others Ask of Us:
An internal voice gnaws at our minds each time we say no to a request: "you're not a good friend," "you're selfish for thinking of yourself," "how can you refuse after all they've done for you?", "don't be a bad person." Of course, doing favors and being supportive in line with our values makes us feel happy and satisfied. The problem arises when, instead of coming from the heart, these actions stem from the tormenting voices in our minds. These thoughts are often exaggerated, incisive, and not based on love for others but on alleviating personal discomfort due to our inability to deal with obsessive thoughts. The challenge is to pause and consider whether you're not actually being selfish towards yourself each time you say no to yourself by saying yes to others.
Being generous to others doesn't mean mutilating our desires and authenticity.
When we betray an important part of ourselves to please others, we forget that within us lies an "essence" crying out to be expressed and considered. Being generous to others doesn't mean mutilating our desires and authenticity. If this is how it feels, then that generosity comes not from the heart but from the fear of losing others' appreciation. And this fear is based more on a selfish desire than on the wish to give sincerely and altruistically. Sacrificing more than necessary or complicating our lives by not setting clear boundaries is not commendable; it's emotional immaturity and a lack of personal security. Before saying no or yes, it's important to objectively evaluate each situation and explore the real motivation behind each affirmation or denial, so we don't end up frustrated or disillusioned when we don't receive the same in return.
- Not Knowing How to Delegate and Taking on Too Much Responsibility:
Sometimes we can't say no because we want to handle everything ourselves. Here, the problem lies in over-involvement and the desire to maintain control. There is a great difficulty in trusting others and a secret belief that "no one can do it better than me." This overload not only leads us to neglect other important aspects of our lives that "really can't be delegated" but also fosters laziness and irresponsibility in those around us. We might end up thinking everyone is useless when, in fact, we are the ones denying them the chance to learn and take responsibility. The fault lies not with the sheep but with the shepherd who guides them in this direction. Sometimes we complain about the very situation we create. Taking a moment to ask ourselves, "what part am I playing in creating this situation?" positions us with integrity and fairness.
Learning to Say "No" Kindly and Firmly:
First, identify the situations, feelings, and people involved when you struggle to say no. Remember how often you regretted saying yes when you wanted to say no.
Consider your thoughts and emotions just before you're about to refuse. What drives you to say yes? How do you feel each time you say no?
After answering these questions, reflect: Do others like me because I never say no? Is this beneficial for me? What if I start saying no and remain with those who love me for who I am, not for what I do or don't do? You'll likely feel more confident about others' love without needing to work for it.
Strategies for Assertively and Kindly Saying No:
- Explain your stance simply and briefly: a concise explanation for your refusal is a kind way to maintain your position without aggression. For example, "I can't commit because I have a lot on my plate."
- Practice empathy without giving in: show understanding for the other person's viewpoint, validate their arguments, then express your stance and decision. You might conclude with a suggestion: "I understand you have a deadline and need to finish soon, but I can't help this time. Maybe you could ask for an extension."
- Acknowledge their point and maintain your stance: when faced with persistence or explicit pressure, acknowledge the merit in the other person's argument while keeping your stance. "It's true that it could be a good option, but I can't take on that responsibility right now."
- Delay your response when unsure: if you feel anxious and unsure, postpone your response to avoid half-hearted commitments: "I can't confirm right now; let me organize and get back to you with a more certain answer."
- Stand firm against persistence: Teach others that your word has value by not changing your opinion under pressure. Use the 'broken record' technique, repeating your stance calmly and firmly: "I prefer to stay home this time, as I've already said. Sorry, but you won't convince me."
- Separate your refusal from your persona: when fearing misinterpretation, emotional blackmail, or judgment, clarify that your refusal isn't about your affection for them or your character: "I can't accompany you, but I hope you're not offended, as it has nothing to do with my appreciation for you."
- Observe the situation from the outside: shift your focus from the conversation to what's happening, as if observing from outside. In case of persistence, you might say, "You've been insisting for a while, but I won't change my mind, seriously."
Remember, "saying no" is about respecting your limits and needs. It's a crucial skill for maintaining healthy relationships and personal well-being.
These assertive responses require training and practice. Finding the balance between pleasing others and being true to ourselves necessitates a "pause" to reflect on why we say yes when we do, and to feel the freedom to say no when we wish, without fear of losing love.
When our 'yes' is based on the inability to refuse, we need to strengthen our personality and overcome the fear of not pleasing others.
It's an irrational belief to think we can always make everyone happy, to expect that everyone will like us and agree with all our preferences. If the cost of pleasing others is betraying our values, needs, and even our truest essence, it's not commendable or admirable. It's a consequence of basing our worth on the value others assign to us. To position oneself is to love, respect, and value oneself. It's honoring human diversity, accepting that not everyone thinks the same, and that a "yes" or a "no" neither buys nor deteriorates the real affection others have for us.
Asking yourself these questions before saying yes to a request indicates emotional maturity, personal security, and the ability to love from the most authentic part of yourself, without fear of losing anything that is real and true:
Can I do it?
Do I want to do it?
Does it come from the heart?
Or is it based on a fear of my ego?
Making these considerations before responding demonstrates a mature, secure approach to interpersonal relationships, allowing us to act authentically without fear of losing what truly matters.